Run the race

As we gather around our tv sets to watch the Olympic games we will hopefully see Great Britain win many medals. We’ll be cheering as we watch athletes we’ve never heard of, competing in sports we’ve never seen before, come close to winning the prized gold medal.

Those athletes will have given their whole lives for the cause. They will have been ferried to training by their devoted parents. They’ll have sacrificed the nights out at university to ensure they were fresh for the 5am start the next day. They’ll have gone through real pain and hardship to get where they are today.
But as we look at the elite athletes we need to spare a thought for those who aren’t there. Those who missed out on the qualifying time. Or weren’t selected. And that’s without thinking of the people who did not have the discipline, self-sacrifice and single-mindedness to pursue the ultimate goal.
The Christian life is compared to an athlete’s training on many occasions in the Bible. It is compared to a race that we need discipline for if we are to reach the finishing line. And this leads us to think about the way we’re going about living our lives. The Bible tells us that we need to persevere and work through hard times because the ultimate goal is within reach and more glorious than even an Olympic gold medal.
If we call ourselves Christians then we need to ensure that we are continually moving forward. We need to be disciplining ourselves in reading scripture, praying, attending church and keeping ourselves away from ungodly things.
The Christian life is one of discipline, self-sacrifice and single-mindedness to pursue the ultimate goal.
And the wonderful thing is that we have the greatest trainer. Jesus has travelled the road before us. He suffered to the point of death so that he could restore our relationship to God. And he gives us everything we need to complete the race.
Will you join us this summer to find out more about him?

Ministry is not Celebrity

“How do these famous pastors write all these books, preach every Sunday and visit all their mega-flocks? As well as being dads and husbands?”

This was my tweet that inspired the launch of Phil Baiden International Ministries. I received some really interesting responses. It seems that well-known pastors who have mega-churches and write lots of books hire other people to do much of the donkey work. Sermon researchers, ghost writers, pastoral visitors are used which has the bonus of allowing the pastors to concentrate on the really important stuff like conference speaking. Well, I fancied a bit of that so PBIM is the result. Stay tuned for the announcement of my new book in the next few days…

At the same time as sending out this tweet I was reading Carl Trueman’s book of collected essays: “Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread”. Trueman is an Englishman who has taught at Aberdeen University and is now academic dean at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. He’s a fabulous author on modern church life because he has a real knowledge and love of church history. His articles can be read here.

Trueman’s writings show the ridiculousness of some of the things going on in the church today that reflect the culture of celebrity much more than they reflect a self-sacrificial Saviour. He also uses humour to show the absurdities of church life. So I recommend Carl Trueman to you with the proviso that he may turn into the type of “celebrity” Christian to you that he warns us against.

Trueman reminds us that ministry is not glamourous. It should not be a quick route to celebrity. It can be heart-breaking and back-breaking and there may be no rewards this side of glory. No. Ministry should be simply: Preach and teach the Word, visit the sick and shepherd the flock God’s given you. Let the conferences, book deals and tv shows wait. You’re not that special but you’ve been given a special task. Get on with it.

Launching Phil Baiden International Ministries

After minutes of planning and seconds of prayer, today sees the launch of Phil Baiden International Ministries.
Based around the teaching ministry of British pastor Phil Baiden, PBIM will see the blessing that led his churches to more than triple their average attendance* spread around the world.
Phil has already had an international impact preaching in areas such as Doncaster in Yorkshire, as well as more affluent countries like Madagascar. Wherever he has preached multitudes have expressed their gratitude for his ministry by using phrases such as “nice service” and “the hymns were good”. Now, more will be able to share in the unique ministry of this mighty man of God.
However, if PBIM is to achieve the global impact that will transform the nations then we need your help. If Phil is to preach, teach and appear on television then he needs not only financial gifts but the practical gifts of your time and talents.
PBIM is looking to fill the following positions:

Vice President Europe.
Vice President Rest of the World.
Director of Music
Personal Assistant: Sermon Research.
Personal Assistant: Hair.
Someone who can make really cool videos that make Phil look cutting-edge, modern, relevant and, above all, successful.

We pray that you would respond to this awesome opportunity to make God famous through the ministry of this unbelievably gifted teacher.

PBIM: For the nations, and because my manse isn’t big enough.

*on certain Sundays.

Of first importance – the cross and the empty grave

This time of year is an exciting time for Christians. We’re building up to the central dates in our calendar – Good Friday and Easter Sunday. These days are important because they remind us each year of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Both of those events should make us ponder. What type of religion commemorates a man’s death by remembering all the grisly details of his final hours? What type of crazy belief system then celebrates that same man coming back to life? It’s a bit odd if you hear this for the first time. What on earth is Christianity all about?
One of the earliest Christian preachers, a man named Paul, wrote that the most important thing for us to know about Christianity was “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures ” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4). This makes things even odder. Paul tells us that these events were in some way the fulfilment of promises made in an ancient book. This is craziness. It’s absurd. Unbelievable.
And yet it is the centre of the Christian faith. And the clue to the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus is in these words of Paul. The reason why we commemorate the death of Jesus is because he died “for our sins”.
The Bible tells us that the world and everything in it was created by God. But that human beings rebelled against their creator. That rebellion is called sin and all of us are guilty of it. Have you told a lie, pinched something without asking, got angry at someone and called them names? Many of us have. And all of us have thought about those things. This is sin – ignoring God and his ways in his world.
But the cross tells us that Jesus died for our sins. Jesus took the punishment that we should have as lawbreakers and represented us. He substituted himself for us so that our sins would be put to death and we could come into relationship with God again. And that’s why the resurrection is so wonderful – it proves that this is what happened and that sin has been conquered. Because the ultimate consequence of sin is death – but thanks be to God, Jesus has beaten death.
So please don’t dismiss the events of Good Friday and Easter. They’re the only hope we’ve got in this world.

Warning: This Face Cream Contains False Promises

Where does the time go? This time last year my wife and I were preparing for the arrival of our first baby. Now we’re preparing for Hannah’s first birthday. Last year we had a precious baby waiting to join us, today we have an almost-walking, almost-talking little girl with her own personality. It has been a wonder to see her grow and we now look back at old photos expressing amazement that Hannah was ever that small.
Many of us may also be looking back at our lives wondering where the time went. In our minds we’re still the vibrant youngsters we were but when we look at our bodies… well the less said the better.
The Bible is really matter-of-fact about this passage of time. It doesn’t sugarcoat it for us either. It says: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.” (Isaiah 40:6-7 ESV)
Oh, thanks. My life is like the grass and flowers that look great for a time and then fade away. That message goes against everything we’re told by TV adverts. They tell us that we can be young forever, if only we had the right face cream, clothes or gadgets. The Bible tells us something different.
This may seem depressing – perhaps because we’re so used to the message of modern life. But it leads to great freedom. The Bible continues to say: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)
Everything around us is getting older but there is one who stands firm. There is one who is unchanging, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the one who experienced our life – and death – and now is alive for ever more with the promise of the same for us. We won’t find the secret of eternal life in a pot of cream, a new jacket or an iPad.
We find it in Jesus Christ who stands forever.

This is the most viewed piece on this blog. I’d love to think it was for my great writing but the reality is that it’s got a picture of Calvin in it and people were interested in him during 2009.

Phil Baiden

john-calvin“When you stand on the shoulder of giants you should probably be able to see further than them.”

This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. He was a reformer of the church in Geneva. He was, by all measures, a remarkable man. He studied at university from the age of 13, firstly to train for the ministry and then for the law. He wrote a Latin commentary on Seneca’s On Clemency in his early 20s. In 1536 he wrote the first volume of his systematic theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion. He was press-ganged into serving the church in Geneva and after an initial false-start he spent the rest of his life there.

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The Necessity of Acknowledging Authority (repost)

Another repost after an interesting week of response to a sermon on Ephesians 5:22

Do you believe that the Word of God in the New and Old Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the supreme authority for the faith and conduct of all God’s people?

Authority is not something that human beings are naturally comfortable with. All around us we see the consequences of people claiming the supreme authority in their lives. Broken families are often the result of fathers declining to take on their role of authority in the family. School teachers cannot exert authority in the classroom. Politicians lose authority and democracy suffers as a result. And to even assert that there is a greater authority than yourself will result in a puzzled look as if you’ve just spoken fluent Swahili.

As a minister, you’re different. Your allegiance is to Christ. By your initial confession you have declared that there is a God. As one of his creatures you acknowledge that you come under his authority. Now you will promise to base your whole ministry on that authority.

This promise may not be as strong as an inerrantist may want but it is still a strong and vital promise that you are making. The “discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” is a good explanation of the role of the Spirit in sanctification as he opens your eyes to his truth in his word. However, we have seen in the URC how that phrase has introduced a bit of wriggle room for liberals which makes them functional charismatics.

Don’t let that be the case with you, dear minister. The Bible is the Word of God. There is no other place for you to find the will of God. There is no other place for you to go to hear how God has saved you and how you are to live in gratitude for that salvation.

The Bible is your supreme authority for your faith and practice. Everything in your ministry depends on this. No more sermons from Opinions 7:12. No more sanctioning of moral behaviour that is clearly unbiblical. When you do that you are in rebellion against the promise you made before God and the church.

You are under authority. Conduct your ministry as if that is true.